What's so special about cone snail toxins? These toxins, called conotoxins, are so specifically targeted to their prey that they can be used to study details of nerves. And to develop targeted pain medication that is more effective and has fewer side effects.
From the Cone snails and conotoxins website of the University of Melbourne, which also has lots of info about cone snails, including an animated GIF of a cone snail venom apparatus in operation, a gallery of shells and more links.
Cone snails (Family Conidae) are recorded for Singapore. But so far, in my shore explorations, I haven't seen any live ones. Although I've seen empty shells.
Cone shell toxin offers new hope for chronic pain sufferers
The University of Queensland 22 Oct 08;
Better chronic pain relief could be possible in the future, according to research announced today by scientists at UQ's Queensland Brain Institute.
Neuropathic and chronic pain is typically caused by injury to the nerves, resulting in uncontrolled activation of pain pathways, and affects one in five Australians of working age.
Neuroscientists at QBI have revealed that a toxin produced by a lethal cone snail acts on a newly identified target and cell signalling pathway that may play a critical role in regulating chronic pain.
Professor David Adams and his team have identified specific peptides in the cone shell toxin that may serve as the molecular framework for novel “designer” conotoxins.
“For several years, it's been known that the remarkable properties of cone shell toxins (conotoxins) hold tremendous promise for chronic pain sufferers, and drugs that can combat or alleviate pain are a holy grail in drug discovery,” Professor Adams said.
The venom of Conus snails – marine animals found in several of the world's oceans – is currently the subject of extensive scientific investigation because its powerful analgesic properties are thought to offer several distinct advantages over traditional therapeutic treatments for neuropathic pain.
According to Professor Adams, the prevailing scientific view until now has been that conotoxins only targeted one group of pain receptors.
However, in a paper published in the prestigious Journal of Neuroscience, Professor Adams, along with Professor David Craik (UQ's Institute for Molecular Bioscience) and colleagues have described a surprising new way of inhibiting pain sensors using mini-proteins commonly found in cone snail venoms.
The paper invites scientists around the world to reconsider the conventional model for how conotoxins act on target cells such as sensory neurons, opening up what could be a paradigm shift in the development of conotoxin-based therapeutics and analgesics.
Established in 2003, QBI is dedicated to understanding the molecular basis of brain funcion and applying this knowledge to the development of new therapeutics to treat brain and mental health disorders. QBI was established as part of the Queensland Government's Smart State initiative with the generous support of the Atlantic Philanthropies.